It's time to re-discover the Discovery -- the 2015 Land Rover Sport model that both leads and follows in the exploding world of compact SUVs and crossover utility vehicles.
It follows because of its size, with a footprint similar to that of a Jeep Cherokee or the best-selling Honda CR-V. It leads because it may well be the most off-road-capable of any compact SUV or CUV. It also offers what Land Rover calls 5+2 seating, thanks to an optional third row that boosts passenger accommodations to seven.
The third row has been tried before. Toyota's RAV4, also a compact CUV, offered an optional tiny third row seat for a time, then dropped it in 2013 for lack of interest. But the RAV4, like the Honda CR-V, competes in a popular price class. The all-new Land Rover Discovery Sport travels in wealthier company where the seat's $1,750 price tag is likely to be less daunting.
With middle-row seats that travel about 5 inches fore and aft, it is possible to seat a couple of smaller humans in the third row, though their knees nearly reach chin level. Crawling back there can be a chore and using the seat wipes out almost all cargo space.
With or without the third row, however, the Discovery Sport presents itself as reasonably priced. The base SE, with a $37,070 sticker, comes with all-wheel drive, skid plates, and Land Rover's sophisticated terrain response and other off-road systems, which adjust and correct for a variety of landscapes.
Standard features also include full safety equipment, automatic dual-zone climate control, partial leather upholstery, power front seats, pushbutton start, rearview camera and parking sensors, Bluetooth connectivity, 8-inch infotainment touchscreen, premium audio, satellite radio, 12-volt outlets, and USB charging ports.
Tested for this review was the HSE Lux version, which had a $50,075 price tag and added a lot of features, but little additional capability. Optional items include upgraded leather upholstery, a panoramic glass roof, heated seats and windshield, autonomous braking with traffic sign recognition, blind spot monitoring, reverse traffic detection, and a surround view camera. The base price for the Discovery Sport is $37,995.
All of the Discovery Sport models get a new rear suspension system, 240-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 251 lb.-ft. of torque, and a nine-speed automatic transmission. The easy-shifting nine-speed transmission starts in second gear but can be kicked down to first for quicker starts. With a weight of nearly 2 tons, the company rates the 0-to-60 mph acceleration time at 7.8 seconds. City/highway/combined fuel consumption is 21/28/23 mpg.
As good as the Discovery's systems are, however, they are no match for the ever-changing, often brutal winter conditions in Iceland, where the Discovery Sport made its world debut. To forestall the unexpected, the company equipped all of the test vehicles with studded tires embedded with steel spikes to maintain traction on ice and packed snow. They were used in the United States for a time but later outlawed because they tore up expensive concrete and asphalt pavement.
Studded tires also compromise braking, and normal wet and dry handling. Although the Discovery Sport tested for this review acquitted itself well on ice and snow, and reasonably well elsewhere, there was no opportunity to assess its overall capability without studs -- as it will be sold in the U.S.
The driving experience, however, was positive, even endearing. Steering response was quick, with little intrusion of wind, road, or mechanical noise except for the tick-tick sounds of the tire studs, and the Discovery-inspired confidence in extreme conditions, including the capability to ford a stream two feet deep.
Land Rover is shuffling its array of premium off roaders. Eventually three hands will be dealt: a lineup of rugged Defenders, a clutch of Discovery models led by the 2015 Sport, and finally, a series of fashionable and expensive Range Rovers, some with prices exceeding $200,000.
The British company last offered a Discovery in the U.S. about a decade ago. However, the name has been used since in 170 markets worldwide on a model that now is sold here as the LR4. When the company completes its model shuffling, the LR4 will become a Discovery here as well.
It's now possible to spend in the mid-$30,000 range for any number of compact crossovers with AWD for nasty conditions. But for anyone who wants all of that, plus luxury and the bones to tackle tough conditions away from paved roads, the Discovery Sport entices.
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